miércoles, 11 de abril de 2018

Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West (Vintage International, 1992)
by Cormac McCarthy
USA, 1985

More than any other contempo author/title I can think of, Cormac McCarthy in general and maybe Blood Meridian in particular--I can't be bothered to track down the details of the original dispute--seem to've divided my small circle of trusted reader friends into something resembling actively warring pugilistic factions: those who love the guy and those who can't abide him.  After finally subjecting myself to the over the top/no holds barred/orgiastic violence of his signature work, I can finally relate to this entirely understandable state of affairs.  Nominally the tale of a descent into Mexico by American scalp hunters--an odyssey replete with a multiplicity of beheadings, scalpings and more mundane atrocities, all recounted with an indefatigably gory precision--and by extension a sobering meditation upon the nature of man's perennial infatuation with bloodlust and warfare, Blood Meridian's in your face storytelling excesses as pertains to its close embrace of violence still struck me as something of a major aesthetic flaw until I began to think about the novel more as an Inferno-like journey through and reflection upon the so-called opening of the 19th century American west and less as merely an ultraviolent example of viscera(l) realism or anything like that.  I should note that I don't claim that that same strategy should or will work for you.  As it happens, though, I fell under the sway of McCarthy's artistry early on.  In a work in which Melville might be said to have replaced Virgil as the official tour guide of hell, I loved the sense of dread and felt right at home among the various other psychic connections linking Blood Meridian to both Moby-Dick and parts of 2666.  More tangibly, I loved the snap, crackle and pop of McCarthy's prose.  An audio example: "The terrain was thick with cholla and clumps of it clung to the horses with spikes that would drive through a bootsole to the bones within and a wind came up through the hills and all night it sang with a wild viper sound through that countless reach of spines" (253-254).  A visual example: "This ferry was taken over by the Yumas and operated for them by a man named Callaghan, but within days it was burned and Callaghan's body floated anonymously downriver, a vulture standing between the shoulderblades in clerical black, silent rider to the sea" (273-274).  These two style samples will have to suffice for now to give you an idea of what McCarthy's jab is like, but anybody interested in observing his punching power should continue tuning into the beating below.

Cormac McCarthy

On a rise at the western edge of the playa they passed a crude wooden cross where Maricopas had crucified an Apache.  The mummied corpse hung from the crosstree with its mouth gaped in a raw hole, a thing of leather and bone scoured by the pumice winds off the lake and the pale tree of the ribs showing through the scraps of hide that hung from the breast.  They rode on.  The horses trudged sullenly the alien ground and the round earth rolled beneath them silently milling the greater void wherein they were contained.  In the neuter austerity of that terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence.  The very clarity of these articles belied their familiarity, for the eye predicates the whole on some feature or part and here was nothing more luminous than another and nothing more enshadowed and in the optical democracy of such landscapes all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinships.
They grew gaunted and lank under the white suns of those days and their hollow burnedout eyes were like those of noctambulants surprised by day.  Crouched under their hats they seemed fugitives on some grander scale, like beings for whom the sun hungered.  Even the judge grew silent and speculative.  He'd spoke of purging oneself of those things that lay claim to a man but that body receiving his remarks counted themselves well done with any claims at all.  They drove on and the wind drove the fine gray dust before them and they rode an army of graybeards, gray men, gray horses.  The mountains to the north lay sunwise in corrugated folds and the days were cool and the nights were cold and they sat about the fire each in his round of darkness in that round of dark while the idiot watched from his cage at the edge of the light.  The judge cracked with the back of an axe the shinbone on an antelope and the hot marrow dripped smoking on the stones.  They watched him.  The subject was war.
The good book says that he that lives by the sword shall perish by the sword, said the black.
The judge smiled, his face shining with grease.  What right man would have it any other way? he said.
The good book does indeed count war an evil, said Irving.  Yet there's many a bloody tale of war inside it.
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge.  War endures.  As well ask men what they think of stone.  War was always here.  Before man was, war waited for him.  The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.  That is the way it was and will be.  That way and not some other way.
(Blood Meridian, 258-259)

jueves, 29 de marzo de 2018

The Apache Wars

The Apache Wars (Broadway Books, 2017)
by Paul Andrew Hutton
USA, 2016

Outstanding narrative history of the Apache wars and the resulting "trail of blood" (2) left during the contest for control of Apachería (i.e. Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas on one side of the present day border and Sonora, Chihuahua, and Coahuila on the other) c. 1861-1886.  While loosely organized around the life stories of one semi-legendary Apache and one white captive raised among the tribe, University of New Mexico history professor Paul Andrew Hutton's rich, compelling text is such that it's easy to understand why one pro reviewer was moved to gaudily but not inaccurately champion the work as "an epic tale filled with Homeric scenes and unforgettable characters."  That being said, I should stress that Hutton's nonfiction song of rage prob. isn't for the faint of heart even at this far remove from the succession of tragic events described.  Mass quantities of massacres, mutilations and revenge killings rarely make for easy reading, of course, but even the one short paragraph dedicated to scalping techniques here was just a little TMI for me.  Still, a great read both for its bullet point insights into its cast of characters' character--the territorial governor of New Mexico: "The highest dictates of humanity demanded [the Jicarilla Apaches'] extinction" (75); Geronimo: "I have killed many Mexicans.  I do not know how many, for frequently I did not count them.  Some of them were not worth counting" (304)--and for the cruel ironies to be found hidden among the storytelling rubble on the canyon floor (Hutton points out that "more than a third of [General] Sheridan's soldiers," those intent on removing the Apaches from their native lands in 1885, were actually, "like the general himself, foreign-born immigrants to the United States" [355]).

Paul Andrew Hutton

martes, 6 de marzo de 2018

The Big Knock-Over

"The Big Knock-Over"
by Dashiell Hammett
USA, 1927

Farfetched but commensurately high-octane crime caper frantically putting the pedal to the metal of the idea of 150 crooks gathering from across the country to pull off an audacious double bank robbery in broad daylight in Prohibition-era San Francisco before succumbing to the inevitable double-cross as the body count mounts.  I liked it.  From a writing standpoint, I enjoyed the tough guy humor & verve of both the pulp similes--"the room was black as an honest politician's prospects" (372)--and of the borderline parodic high testosterone moments like this one: "She was neither tall nor short, thin nor plump...  She was probably twenty.  Her eyes were blue, her mouth red, her teeth white, the hair-ends showing under her black-green-and-silver turban were brown, and she had a nose.  Without getting steamed up over the details, she was nice.  I said so" (365, ellipses added).  From a sociological standpoint, I was even more tickled to see that what the narrator cheekily refers to as a Who's Who in Crookdom (374) matter-of-factly includes blacks, whites, mulattos and various shades in between as apparent gangland equals--crime as the great American melting pot?  Whatever, not a bad way to while away the time and an entertainment whose thrill ride features are complicated by a morally ambiguous narrator and enlivened by some newly minted slang imported from the jazzbo and gangster worlds.  Hep.

"The Big Knock-Over" bloodily graces pages 364-393 of the new Hammett anthology The Big Book of the Continental Op (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2017) edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett.

lunes, 19 de febrero de 2018

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes.  Music, Music, Music.  Boys, Boys, Boys.  (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)
by Viv Albertine
England, 2014

Utterly entertaining/bodily fluids-rich punk rock-and-motherhood memoir from original Slits lead guitarist Viv Albertine (b. 1954).  While the pull no punches Albertine can manage to be both amusing and revolting at the same time--"My humiliation is overruled by terror" (59) she fesses up in one early nervous laughter- and squirm-inducing sequence recounting how as a teenager she had to enlist her mother's tweezing and spoon-crushing aid in ridding herself of an infestation of crabs--and the various first generation punk anecdotes were the expected muzak to my ears, what I was increasingly appreciative of by the end was less the juicy tidbits about what it was like to pal around with the likes of the Clash and the Sex Pistols in her adventurous youth and more her openness in laying out how she responded to the more prosaic challenges of motherhood, a failing marriage and a surplus of midlife bullshit once her life went analog to digital age- and youthful exuberance- and fading celebrity-wise.  In short, a very engaging read even w/o the "scandalous" mid-1970s bits about shooting up with Johnny Thunders and what it was like to sort of have sex with a Sex Pistol.  Looking forward to the follow-up.

Viv Albertine then & now (photos: top, David Corio, 1980; bottom, Michael Putland, c. 2014)
When we arrive in Philadelphia, we decide to pay Sun Ra a visit in homage to his great music.  We don't know how to find him so we do what we'd do in England and look him up in the phone book.  Phone directories are inside public phone booths in America, same as England.  We look under Sun, but find nothing, we feel a bit foolish but we also check under Ra, and there it is: Ra, Sun - followed by his number and address.  Someone suggests we call and check he's in (not to ask if he wants to see us), someone else shouts 'No no!  It's destiny, of course he'll be in!'  We all agree we should just take a chance and turn up, so we pile back into the van (Ari, Tessa, Bruce, Steve Beresford, Christine Robertson - who co-manages us with Dick O'Dell - and Dave Lewis, who later plays guitar with us) and navigate through Philadelphia, past rickety clapboard houses with stoops, stopping and asking directions whenever we get lost.  It's Hallowe'en, we're dressed in our usual stuff but the people we stop peer past Christine, who's driving, into the back of the van and ask if those are our Hallowe'en costumes.  We arrive at Sun Ra's small terraced house; it's very ordinary and modest with a front gate, short path and plain front door.  Not what I imagined at all, I thought there'd at least be a plaster planet on the gatepost or something.  We knock, hopping from one foot to the other like children on the doorstep of a birthday party - Christine and Dave stay in the van so we don't overwhelm Sun Ra - no answer.  We knock again.  The next-door neighbour opens her front door: 'You lookin' for Mr. Ra?'  'Yes!' we chorus.  'He's away on tour right now.'  She gives us a quick look up and down and immediately shuts the door.  Still, we got to see Sun Ra's house and Sun Ra's street and talk to Sun Ra's neighbour.  Result.
(Clothes, Clothes, Clothes.  Music, Music, Music.  Boys, Boys, Boys., 236-237)

lunes, 1 de enero de 2018

Mi Top 10 de 2017

Lord Jim, de Joseph Conrad (Inglaterra, 1900)

Un barrage contre le Pacifique, de Marguerite Duras (Francia, 1950)

Muerte súbita, de Álvaro Enrigue (México, 2013)

The Broken Road, de Patrick Leigh Fermor (Inglaterra, 2013)

Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, de Max Hastings (Inglaterra, 1984)

The Centurions, de Jean Lartéguy (Francia, 1960)

The Praetorians, de Jean Lartéguy (Francia, 1961)

Midnight in Sicily, de Peter Robb (Australia, 1996)

Fiesta en la madriguera, de Juan Pablo Villalobos (México, 2010)

Thérèse Raquin, de Émile Zola (Francia, 1867)

Mención honorífica [Honorable Mention]
Journey into Fear, de Eric Ambler (Inglaterra, 1940); Young Man with a Horn, de Dorothy Baker  (EE. UU., 1938); David Copperfield, de Charles Dickens (Inglaterra, 1849-50); Chourmo, de Jean-Claude Izzo (Francia, 1996); The Way Some People Die & The Galton Case, de Ross Macdonald (EE. UU., 1951 & 1959); Gaudy Night, de Dorothy L. Sayers (Inglaterra, 1935); Los mares del sur, de Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (España, 1979).

*en orden alfabético por autor [in alphabetical order by author]*

lunes, 9 de octubre de 2017


Chourmo (Folio Policier, 2014)
by Jean-Claude Izzo
France, 1996

Two books into Izzo's brooding Marseille Trilogy, I'm increasingly bummed that I only have one more title in the series to look forward to.  Rad "mayhem yarn," somewhere between Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels and Yasmina Khadra's Commissaire Llob quartet both in temperament and on the crime-and-disillusionment scale, spun with pace and soul not to mention an unusually distinctive sense of place.  A Marseille where corrupt cops, the white collar wing of the international mafia, and local Islamist extremists from the Bronx-like northern banlieues of the city all vie to suck the life blood out of their teeming prey in the so-called "première ville du tiers-monde" ["first city of the Third World"] (423).  And a Marseille in which even the most world-weary among its inhabitants can find some much needed solace in revisiting old folk songs imported from Algiers and Naples, savoring the perfect bouillabaisse or partaking in some other aspect of the immigrant-rich patrimony of "l'art de vivre marseillais" ["the Marseille-style art of living"] (389).  "La vie est un mauvais film, oú le Technicolor ne change rien au fond de l'histoire" ["Life is a bad movie where Technicolor doesn't change anything at the heart of the story"] (385), laments ex-cop Fabio Montale in a line that could have been lifted straight out of a Jean-Pierre Melville French gangster film, reflecting on friends and family now gone--a lament rife with irony given the vitality of the life-force coursing through Izzo's sour mash note to his native city. A treat.

Jean-Claude Izzo (1945-2000)

Chourmo appears on pp. 305-579 of Izzo's La trilogie Fabio Montale (Paris: Folio Policier, 2014).  For more on the preceding volume in the trilogy, please see the post about Total Khéops written in an almost unintelligible French here.

domingo, 1 de octubre de 2017

"Entre Andreiev y Arlt": The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom: September Links

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Juan Moreira by Eduardo Gutiérrez

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
(on The Lover by Marguerite Duras)

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
For anybody interested in more Zola (and who isn't?), just want to put in a belated plug for the five bitchin' posts Tom of Wuthering Expectations ran as part of Thérèse Raquin Week all the way back in 2010.  Great stuff!

Doom, with a new table of discontents, will continue in October.  It's never too late to join in on the "fun."